Why we run -- It helps us be fit to accomplish mission

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Ella Sanjume
  • 335th Training Squadron commander
I hate running. Running makes every part of my body hurt -- knees, lower back, lungs ... even my teeth.

I'll admit, I may be getting old and decrepit, but running hurt when I first joined the Air Force, too. So, why do I run?

First, the Air Force adopted the 1.5-mile run standard to test and measure our physical fitness.

Second, despite the discomfort, a regular running routine has tremendous physical and mental health benefits.

Finally, I've learned how to run in a manner that minimizes pain and maximizes performance.

In January 2004, the Air Force implemented a new physical fitness requirement that tested aerobic fitness, muscular strength and body composition. The 1.5-mile run replaced cycle ergometry as the cardiovascular test. I think that was a change for the better, or was I the only one who wondered how we'd pedal into battle?

As the Air Force moves to a leaner expeditionary force, our return to running highlights the fitness level required in today's environment of more austere deployments and wartime locations. The run is a standard we must meet to indicate we're fit to perform our wartime mission.

We have rules on customs and courtesies, on uniforms and on physical fitness. I run for the same reason I salute and press my uniform -- it's a military standard I've sworn to uphold.

I also run to support my dessert-eating capability -- ask anyone in the chow hall who has tried to come between me and my three desserts. Running burns more calories per minute than any other form of cardiovascular exercise and is one of the best activities for burning fat.

With our busy schedules, running provides the most bang for the buck in terms of time, cardiovascular work, location and equipment. Running requires only good running shoes and 30 minutes in order to maintain cardiovascular fitness.

If you're having a bad day, running also relieves stress. Why worry about work when you can concentrate on your legs and lungs burning instead? Running clears the mind and is a great distraction.

Then, there's the famous "runner's high" when endorphins are released that mask pain and make running effortless. Personally, I think this is a myth that runners feed to non-runners as an inside joke. I'd like to see the "Mythbusters" take on that one.

I run as smartly as I can to minimize injuries. Although there are opposing camps on the benefits of stretching, I find it works if I warm up first and then stretch out. I run at a slow pace until my legs feel loose. Once done, I recommend stretching out slowly and holding the stretch while your muscles are warmed up.

As you get into better shape, set time or distance goals and try to run faster or further each session. Start preparing for your fitness test months in advance. If you want to run fast, you need to practice running fast. Don't expect to pass the test after just one week of running.

Put the same effort into your fitness test as you do for college or promotion testing. Being "fit to fight" is now part of the Air Force mindset.

While running may not be my favorite activity, I know it's beneficial, helping me to be physically fit and able to accomplish the Air Force mission.